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Sami Atallah, LCPS executive director


May 2016
Why You Should Not Vote for Byerte’s List

The municipal election in Beirut, scheduled for May 8, is heating up. For the first time ever, a group of civil society activists and experts came together several months ago and formulated a thirty-page platform with ten objectives to improve Beirut. Instead of lobbying the political elite for change, they have decided to do it themselves by running for office. They have formed a list of twenty-four candidates, and while keeping the sectarian balance, have reflected the true fabric of society by ensuring primarily gender equality, age distribution, and that candidates are from a range of professional backgrounds.

This move actually reflects the maturity and confidence of CSOs in Lebanon. Almost 20 years ago, in 1997, CSO successfully managed to lobby the government to hold municipal elections that were being regularly postponed for no good reason. Since then, many attempts by CSOs to lobby, demand, and draft legislation to change our society have fallen on deaf ears. This time around, CSOs decided to take on the structures that prevent them from penetrating the decision-making process by competing against the political elite and attempting to produce change from the inside. In fact, this initiative, commonly known as Beirut Madinati (BM), has provided voters for the first time with a real alternative, a vision for the city. Its decision to nominate twenty-four candidates, which effectively means they are not willing to negotiate with other parties, shows confidence, coherence in the team, and seriousness in maintaining the right balance in the composition of its list. In other words, they do not seem interested in trading votes or striking alliances to win the election, rather, they want to win to develop the city. Furthermore, BM, which comprises more than 1,000 volunteers including experts, candidates, and others, has shown great organizational capacity in developing a program, creating a consensus over selected candidates through well-established criteria, and resolving internal conflicts that often engulf many CSOs when they start working together.

In fact, the hope and vision of BM has captured the imagination of many Lebanese living here and abroad. Its program spoke to many citizens and its campaign messages went viral over social media. Even former ministers, some of whom previously served the political establishment, seem to have crossed the fence to support BM. It is too early to say whether this support will manifest into enough votes to win the election but BM has definitely shaped the electoral debate and scored many points against its political opponents.

In parallel, governing political parties have, as expected, formed a common list that distributes the twenty-four municipal seats to fourteen different factions. These include six from the Future Movement; two representatives from the Lebanese Forces, Kataeb, Tashnag, Ashrafieh leader consensus; and one representative from the Makhzoumi Foundation, Jamaa Islamiyeh, Amal Movement, Shiite families, Progressive Socialist Party, Bishop Elias Aoudeh, Al-Hashnag, and the Patriarchal Syriac community.

This list, which is celebrated by the appointed head of Byerte’s list Mr. Jamal Itani, as both coherent and representative of the political establishment is in fact contradictory. Moreover, it is precisely this kind of representation that has been impeding the work of many institutions, including the current municipal council. When asked on the talk show “Kalam Ennas” how he would deal, if elected, with political party bickering in the council, he had no answer.

What is worse is that Byerte’s list is intellectually bankrupt. It does not have its own program but it does parrot, albeit poorly, several elements of BM’s program including having a public garden, garbage sorting, and preserving the city’s heritage. Byerte’s list is not the only one inspired by BM’s program. In fact, the parliamentary committee on Public Works, Transportation, Energy, and Water—headed by a Future Movement MP—has suddenly found it urgent to formulate a one-month roadmap to implement a public transportation system. With an integrated plan for Beirut by BM, one cannot blame Mr. Walid Junblatt for supporting it. Even the son of the former Prime Minister Mr. Fouad Sinyoura seemed initially to be a supporter of BM. If so, this is a serious acknowledgment of the failure of his father’s political party in managing the city. Unless of course Wael’s support was more cunning. That is, by openly supporting BM on his FB page, he meant to signal that BM was his father’s creation and hence undermine BM’s support.

In his final push, Hariri’s attempt to boost the chances of Byerte’s list during his speech in Tariq Jedideh a few days ago reveals why, if elected, the new council is doomed to fail. He attributed the poor performance of the current municipal council to the fact that he was away during this period. This is interesting for three reasons. One, he openly admitted the poor performance of the municipality, which was of his own making six years ago. Two, the fact that he attributed poor municipal performance to his absence from the country shows that he is not interested in building an institutional mechanism to hold the municipal council accountable, a key pillar of development. Three, Hariri claims that this time is different because he plans to be in the country, alluding to the fact that he plans to interfere in the work of the municipality. If so, he has made clear his intention to undermine the municipality and position himself as the guarantor of people’s needs. He sounds so out of touch.

What Hariri does not get is that it is precisely his intervention and that of the other political parties which is undermining the work of municipalities. It is precisely because of this that people should not be voting for Byerte’s list, as such interference will undermine the very last institution that could promote development. Only by empowering the internal and external mechanisms of accountability will the city be better off.
 
 






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